Down on the farm, R&D serves as the sharpest spade
The EBI can be improved by using semen from bulls with a high index or buying in cows with a high index and removing low EBI cows from the herd. Teagasc has worked with organisations such as the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation to encourage the widespread use of this tool.
Teagasc’s head of dairy knowledge transfer Tom O’Dwyer says farmers make decisions regarding bull choice every year and later regret some of them. “After all, if you don’t select the parents wisely, how can you expect the offspring to perform?”
He says the index and the formulas used to predict breeding merit were derived from research and trials at different stocking rates at Moorepark over the last 12 years. “This €6 per cow increase could potentially translate into a €12 million improvement in profitability for the State’s dairy herd if realised.”
Robotic milking Coming to a farm near you
Enjoying a lie-in while the robot milks the cows sounds like every farmer’s fantasy but robotic milking machines are starting to catch on. Teagasc believes up to 20 Irish farmers are now using them and this number is expected to increase when milk quotas are abolished in 2015.
Under the robotic system, cows come in to be milked whenever they want. They stand in their stall and a laser scans the udder before placing the teat cups on the cow. Data is recorded by the robot, which can be accessed by the farmer on a computer or smart phone. But because feed is used to attract the cows into the parlour, researchers have found that cows eat less grass under this system.Grass costs less than feed and produces higher quality milk.
To address this issue, Teagasc’s Moorepark facility is involved in a three-year experiment. It has installed a Fullwood Merlin robot milking unit in its Dairygold research farm in Cork.
Teagasc researchers are also involved in making the most of grass, in a study with Teagasc’s Ballyhaise College in Co Cavan. Tom O’Dwyer says dairy farmers need to start thinking of themselves as being involved in growing grass rather than milking cows. “The cows simply convert the grass to milk.”
The research found that up to 16 tonnes of grass per hectare could be grown with good management – twice what the average dairy farm grows.
“The key is regular grass measurement and budgeting,” he says. “By knowing the production of individual paddocks, decisions can be taken on the optimum time to graze, whether the paddock should be removed as surplus, and reseeding.”